President for a day

An interesting thing happened today and I offer it to you for consideration on the eve of our presidential election.

I was asked to teach about elections to the sixth grade class at Simon Middle School. I thought, why teach about elections? Why not just have one? So in every class we had an election for “President of Simon for one day.”

I asked for volunteers to be candidates. Those candidates were made to answer questions from the students. “What will you do about bullying?” was a common question. “Will you change the dress code?” “What do you think about STAAR?” “What about homework?”

Generally speaking, in each class the student who received the most votes would say things like “I want to lower the passing standards for STAAR” and “I want to eliminate the dress code” and “no more homework!” and “FREE LUNCHES!” One candidate who ended up winning recommended turning the water fountains into Kool-Aid. The more wonderful the proposal sounded the more students would clap in open support. The more students clapped in open support, the more bold the candidate’s promises became.

After the vote we would name our president and I would ask that young person what would be his or her first act. Inevitably the new president would go through their list of campaign promises and make them official.

And then I would fast forward six months. “Class, I’ve got some bad news,” I would say. “Because of these new policies the state of Simon is in peril. With the elimination of homework and reduced STAAR standards, our students are failing 6th grade. The state is threatening to close the school. Also, because the school is giving away all its lunches, we are going bankrupt.”

The students would predictably gape at my statements.

“How does that make you feel?” I would ask them.

“Terrible!” they would say. “It’s not fair!”

“And who’s fault is it?” I would ask.

“His!” they would scream while simultaneously pointing at their newly minted president.

So I would turn to the new president and say, “And whose fault do YOU think it is?”

“Theirs!” he would say while pointing his finger right back at the people who just elected him.

The lesson I hoped to teach them was simple. It’s easier to blame others than to reflect on how you contribute to the problem. Look inward, think hard, and don’t waste time pointing your finger. Cast your vote, and then, regardless of who wins or what happens after, be part of the solution. And remember, as my dad always says, if it sounds too wonderful to be true, it probably is.

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